This is the first production from the new Tasmanian Theatre Company and kicks things off with a bang. This is a lively and entertaining show featuring six strong performances by an all female cast.
Joanna-Murray Smith’s Bombshells is a series of dramatic monologues with occasional song and dance numbers. Written as a vehicle for Caroline O’Connor it was first produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2002 and was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before moving to London’s West End.
This production, directed by Robert Jarman, makes a notable change to the format. Instead of being a solo piece, it features six actors playing the six characters depicted: the gauche schoolgirl, the unhappy bride, the frazzled mother, the betrayed wife, the dejected widow, and the unsinkable ‘dame’.
Perhaps it is hard to find all the talents required for the solo Bombshells in just one person? Perhaps this is altruism, just to offer more actors a gig? Interestingly, Perth Theatre Company will do something similar with their Bombshells in September, except there will be three actors covering the six roles.
The change is exciting in some ways, but I can’t help but feel that it blunts the playwright’s intention. Wasn’t there meaning behind the one-woman presentation? Something about ‘woman’ in all her facets, as though within each woman can be found all of these archetypes?
Of course, there was also the show-off factor; the simple thrill we get from seeing one actor transform herself again and again, the sort of enjoyment you get from watching a contortionist.
Well, perhaps, none of that counts for much after all.
But there is a problem with pacing. The show ends with touring American diva, Zoe Struthers, played by Fiona Stewart. As she sings and postures, a cross between Minnelli and Streisand with a dash of Tammy Wynette thrown in, she chats about her problems with substance abuse (“Do you guys have that over here?”) and her troubled personal life.
It’s funny, but it’s just shtick. Coming straight after Noreen Le Mottee’s moving monologue about an older woman's experience of sexual re-awakening, it feels inconsequential.
Stewart is amusing, her Vegas-style rendition of Waltzing Matilda is certainly an eye-opener, but her character is the least rounded of the six and it seems the wrong note to end on. Zoe Struthers is a stereotype and really nothing more: she’s all external.
This may be a flaw in the writing, but is emphasised here because Struthers is played by an actor we’ve only just been introduced to. Stewart doesn’t get to show more of herself, this is all we get.
Another segment offering broad humour is Carmen Falk’s turn as schoolgirl talent show hopeful Mary O’Donnell. I have to say this segment is hilarious, with Falk’s interpretation of a bravely improvised dance routine to the music from Shaft needing to be seen to be believed. And it came at a good moment just before the interval, a welcome respite from the angst.
All the performers contribute a great deal and manage to rise above the limitations of the material, some of which feels quite dated. You almost get the feeling that Murray-Smith has based her characters on what she’s read in novels or perhaps from television.
The trials of a stay-at-home mother of three are not to be sneezed at, but as written in Bombshells the experience is so general as to seem too neat. Meryl’s concerns – whether to feed the kids Coco Pops, what it means to be a ‘good mother’, how to sneak out for a trashy mag and a café latte on the side – are all quite credible but you feel as though the piece might have been written by someone in advertising. Perhaps as an ad for Tim Tams.
And yet Mel King plays the role with tremendous energy and ingenuity, taking us on a journey from despair to bliss and back again. She brings idiosyncrasy to the character, a sort of fierce, tomboyish quality, making it more than the sum of its mundane parts.
A character like Tiggy Entwhistle, a deserted middle-aged wife who finds her solace in cactus appreciation, is also a bit on the nose. There’s the name, for a start. But Jane Longhurst brings this frightful creation to life convincingly, making her quite dry and flinty at times.
Then we come to Theresa McTerry, a young bride who realises at the altar that she’s more into the wedding dress than she is the man. Bryony Geeves portrays Theresa as a rough diamond, her manner an amusing contrast to the absurd meringue she’s wearing.
As played by Geeves, Theresa is clearly not a fool: she’s just allowed the foolish side of herself to take over for a while, and for that reason she’s sympathetic. It’s just a pity that, again, the playwright is ultimately saying nothing we haven’t heard before.
When it comes to Le Mottee’s turn as Winsome Webster, there’s cause to hope that things are heading in a more interesting direction. And they do. Winsome is a widow, yes, but she’s also privately amused by herself and her fellow widows, the constant lunching and charitable activities. Le Mottee emphasises the innate good sense behind the loneliness.
Even more promising is when Winsome starts reading to a charismatic young blind man and feels an unexpected stirring of interest. The scene describing Winsome’s seduction is beautifully performed, with Le Mottee never losing her character’s sensible speech patterns.
Again, however, the text returns to the familiar. Sex transforms, it says, using terms very similar to the dreadful erotica Winsome had been mocking just moments before. Murray-Smith plays around with clichés, certainly recognises them, but more often than not, ends up succumbing to them.
This is a fast-paced night of theatre featuring six unique performers. I would question the choice of the material: there are surely more imaginative Australian plays out there that cover similar territory. But this is a production you could bring anyone to – your mother, your workmates - and expect an enjoyable time to be had by all.
The Tasmanian Theatre Company presents
by Joanna Murray-Smith
Venue: Backspace Theatre
Dates: June 19–28 2008
Stanley July 1 at 7.30pm Stanley Town Hall
Devonport July 2 at 7.30pm Devonport Entertainment Centre
St Helen’s July 3 at 7.00pm Portland Hall
Ouse July 4 at 7.00pm Ouse Hall
Pontville July 5 at 7.00pm Pontville Town Hall